Monument tradeoffs are necessary

Monument tradeoffs are necessary

Preserving the ecosystem, biodiversity is crucial

CAN ANYONE REALLY SAY why there is such an outcry about the establishment of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument? It is doubtful that a majority of those speaking out against it could accurately locate the area on a chart. Let’s face it: there are a lot of politics involved in what should be a purely scientific decision. With Secretary of the Interior  Ryan Zinke’s decision to leave the door open to making changes to the monument, it’s clear that the science – and therefore, America’s best interests –  may not be his priority.

When discussions took place leading up to the Obama Administration’s designation of the first marine monument in federal waters along the Atlantic coast, we supported the idea. In fact, one of us spoke at a meeting held by the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) on the designation of this area and supported the inclusion of the Cashes Ledge area as well, which was ultimately not included. The overriding concern then, and now, is the long-term health and sustainability of our oceans and hopefully the rebuilding of the Gulf of Maine cod population and other stressed wildlife populations. Philosophically, we have not been supporters of marine protected areas for the sake of marine protected areas. However, we do think they can be useful tools for protecting important and fragile habitat.

Having spent many years involved in fisheries management – including nine years on the New England Fishery Management Council and nine years on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council – there are colleagues who ask, “Isn’t this the jurisdiction of the regional fishery management councils?” Well, yes and no. The councils primarily manage commercially valuable finfish and shellfish. Only tangentially do they get involved with marine habitat. But the biggest issue is the fact that the council’s decisions are relatively easy to change or eliminate. Marine monument designation has a much higher level of permanence. Certainly, when we look at some of the long-term issues facing the fishing industry in the Northeast, habitat protection with some durability is necessary.

Importantly, within the monument, recreational fishing, whale watch trips, seabird viewing expeditions, and other activities are allowed to operate. These activities are important for us economically and allow us to appreciate the value of the monument. The restrictions are on commercial extraction – including commercial fishing – because of the much greater impact these activities have on the fragile and vulnerable resources within the area.

Yes, we understand that this could impact some commercial fishermen. Over the years, we have seen many poor fisheries management decisions made on the basis that they would not negatively impact users. It is doubtful that any valuable marine habitat could be protected without causing some displacement. That said, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is located in an area with very minimal commercial fishing – and contingencies have been made for those in the offshore lobster and red crab fisheries.

Impacting a few commercial fishermen is not ideal. Unfortunately, there is very little that is perfect in ocean resource management. Tradeoffs always have to be made. What would truly be unfortunate is allowing a vibrant ecosystem and the biodiversity it supports to be destroyed. Then everyone loses.

Meet the Author

Rip Cunningham

Member, Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee
Meet the Author

John McMurray

Charter captain and former member, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council
There is no doubt in our minds that the only acceptable decision for President Trump to make would be to keep the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine Monument as it is. That makes the most sense for the future health of our oceans.

Rip Cunningham is a recreational fisherman, a former chair of the New England Fishery Management Council and a member of the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee. John McMurray is a charter captain and a former member of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

  • Borehead

    Both of these men should be ashamed of themselves. Not only for this CLF propaganda, but including their actions as so called managers.

    • David L. Allison

      Poor right wing angry old white fisherman hates everything to the left of Anarchy.

  • David L. Allison

    Great voices speaking out for the ocean and for those of us who own the public trust resources including the ocean habitat and all of the species that live and thrive sustainably within it. Those attacking these two ocean heroes are immersed in greed and short term profit at the cost of long term sustainability of both fish and fisheries of America.

  • MeghanLapp

    “It is doubtful that a majority of those speaking out against it could accurately locate the area on a chart”. This is completely false. The only individuals who have physically been to the area, knew exactly what the chart coordinates were, and knew the true topography and ecosystem of the area ARE the people speaking out against it. The fishermen who actually work there. This monument area has been a historic fishing ground for decades- for robust, healthy species such as squid, butterfish, whiting, lobster, and other species- and those speaking out against the retraction of their business grounds are the only people who have actually been there. As one who attended the Town Hall “meeting” held prior to the designation, I can honestly say from personal experience that the individuals against the designation were those who make their living there and actually knew the area. Those in support of the area were the uneducated, scuba divers who didn’t realize that the canyons were not div-able due to their extreme depth (until afterwards), religious figures who were reading poems and giving heartwarming speeches completely disassociated with reality, and young people who had been brought in by organizations and given badges to wear on their clothing. A better synopsis of the situation, from both a realistic and scientific standpoint, can be found at:

    • Jason Bahr

      Excellent response. Refreshing to read something so coherent.

  • Jason Bahr

    “What would truly be unfortunate is allowing a vibrant ecosystem and the biodiversity it supports to be destroyed. Then everyone loses.”
    This is the crux of the argument against banning fishing. Everyone who wants it “protected” say how pristine this area is. It has been fished for a long time and it still is pristine. Fishing here has almost no impacts on the environment to the point it is still pristine. It is very remote and is managed quite well by NMFS. Fishing doesn’t need to banned to keep this area pristine. It would be nice to be able to discuss this in a rational way.